“Men” stars Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear, Paapa Essiedu, and Gayle Rankin. Released on May 20, 2022, the film is about a young woman discovering something sinister during her holiday retreat.
The film is written and directed by Alex Garland, who also directed “Ex Machina” and “Annihilation”. It’s always essential to go on a holiday now and then. Just make sure you choose a spot where it doesn’t have a lot of creepy men spying on you. The horror genre got off to a very rough start last weekend with the latest adaptation of Stephen King’s “Firestarter”. Although, it’s more of a superhero origin film than a horror movie, and it’s a burning hot mess, so it doesn’t count. The actual start of this year’s frightful summer season comes from Garland’s latest nerve-racking (and bizarre) project that’ll either put chills down your spine or bore you to tears. Whichever comes first. Alex Garland has done very well in impressing me with his works regarding his directorial efforts. I remembered loving his directorial debut, “Ex Machina”, for its cast, story, and visuals. His previous film from 2018, “Annihilation”, didn’t match the heights of his first outing. However, it’s still a solid science-fiction horror film that benefited from risky storytelling, challenging topics, and gorgeous sceneries. His latest feature as a director and writer sees Garland tackling folklore elements, with several men attempting to ruin a woman’s relaxing holiday. Was it a compellingly haunting holiday worth remembering this summer, or are we better off spending it at the beach? Let’s find out.
The story follows Harper Marlowe (Buckley), a young woman who recently lost her husband James (Essiedu) due to a tragic accident. She later decided to go on a holiday retreat in the English countryside to combat her depression. When she arrives at the village, she meets Geoffrey (Kinnear), the owner of the holiday house she rents. As she explores the town, Harper encounters a series of strange occurrences that cause her to question her sanity, including the numerous men who almost looked like Geoffrey.
This is another film that takes the approach of providing an allegorical narrative instead of its traditional horror tropes, such as the constant jump scares. Seeing that A24 distributes it, this doesn’t surprise me. As usual, this direction proves to be understandably divisive regarding the genre. Most people come to these movies expecting it to be another generic fright-fest, but instead, they’re rewarded with a slow-burning, character-driven film where the only scary part is waiting for something to happen. I don’t mind this approach if it delivers something worthwhile in its storytelling and cast. I mean, what other reason why I love something like “The Lighthouse”?
The only thing I can say about my experience with “Men” is that it’s “strange”. I’m not talking about the “Multiverse of Madness” strange. I’m talking about the type of “strange” in which things get weirder and weirder as the film goes on, and you can’t understand why. Was it highly terrifying? Surprisingly, no. There were a few moments that were creepy regarding the imagery and tension, but it didn’t quite reach the impact it’s intended to haunt my brain on the drive home. Well, at least not until the finale, which was, without a doubt, one of the most unsettling sequences I’ve seen in a horror movie. So you should probably hold off on getting something to eat before watching it.
Aside from its scares, “Men” is a decently compelling allegory that explores Harper’s grief over her husband. It represents the inner pain she’s hoping to overcome while on holiday, but it’s not without a couple of strange men lurking behind every corner. It’s understandable to see what Garland is trying to say regarding the depiction of grief, loss, and the upsetting nature of man. However, the narrative struggles to get that point across through its thematic undertones. The story is still nicely told with some things for viewers to think about, but in terms of how memorable its narrative grasp was, it’s not something that’ll stick with me for a long time.
One of the elements that drive the film is its cast. Jessie Buckley, who received an Oscar nomination for her role in “The Lost Daughter”, continues to make a solid impression onscreen, thanks to her compelling performance as Harper. After seeing Buckley in this movie and “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”, it’s safe to say that she’s got a promising future ahead of her in the film industry. I was also impressed with Rory Kinnear’s portrayal of Geoffrey and the various men haunting Harper. He’s undoubtedly terrifying, and he’s got the perfect range to make his characters distinct from one another. Essiedu and Rankin also delivered some decent performances as James and Riley, respectively.
While his script may be hard to come by, I can easily admit that Alex Garland is still very talented behind the camera. Like his previous films, Garland offers a hauntingly beautiful and grimly nightmarish vision, mainly due to Rob Hardy’s fantastic cinematography. He also did pretty well in relying on buildup and atmosphere to create shivers down my spine, even though some of its scares were far from frightening. The movie’s musical score by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow was also strong in providing a mixture of relaxation and uneasiness.
Overall, “Men” is as unsettling as being stalked by a creepy guy at night, which is the best way for me to describe this bizarrely engaging horror allegory. Unfortunately, it doesn’t reach the same heights as A24’s other great horror films regarding its narrative. Nevertheless, it’s a well-crafted and hauntingly attractive piece of filmmaking that showcases Garland as a respectable director. With its magnetic cast, cinematography, and proper direction towards its unsettling moments, the film is a trippy holiday that horror fans wouldn’t mind taking.
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